Russia Loses Again in Ukraine, Keeps Raising The Ante

Putin keeps gambling. His first, impulsive attack on Ukraine in February 2014 netted him Crimea and 80% approval ratings. He’s stumbled since.

Russia failed to replicate the unopposed Crimean takeover in Ukraine’s Southeast from March-April. Moscow then threatened formal army invasion. That only solidified an improbable Ukrainian nationalism, creating a prohibitive cost. Ukrainians’ vote for Europeanist President Porochenko is another blow. Yet Putin keeps doubling down on escalation, even if formal invasion isn’t on the table for now.

Putin and Russia Go Backwards

Nihilist Nostalgia

Putin’s goals lie beyond Ukraine. He seeks to alter fundamentally the global balance of power and pull down the liberal democratic order. It’s ambitious for a $2 trillion economy confronting a combined West of $32 trillion. Russia’s 2020 defense re-armament program tops $90 billion a year, against $1 trillion combined in the West.

Invading Ukraine in 2014 revealed Putin’s plans and techniques 5-7 years early. That’s the good news. Putin so far keeps testing his improvisation against a disorganized Western alliance. Why not keep doubling down?

The Status Quo Then And Now

Russia’s attack on Ukraine, while blatant, disorients the status-quo Western mindset. Russian aircraft also create provocations in international airspace and diplomatic initiatives unfold to create Russian versions of credit ratings agencies or add Argentina to the BRICs. The scale is ambitious.

Putinist ideologue and State Duma advisor Alexander Dugin repeats that “anyone who supports the liberal democratic international order is our enemy”.

This is revanche on an unprecedented scale. One can debate how much Dugin and similar figures such as Markov or Prokhanov, etc. influence Putin or are used by him for domestic theater. Russian actions and Putin’s speech, such as “NovoRussia” to describe eastern Ukraine, reflect their ideas.

A status quo political and social culture historically won’t proactively resist initial revanche. Revanchist powers typically enjoy great latitude to dictate the pace and timing of aggression. By definition, a status quo culture will interpret any revanchist pause as a plausible, welcome return to normative behavior. Widespread European relief that Putin chose not to invade Ukraine formally while pursuing aggression by different means a case in point.

Why are status quo cultures in 2014 still ill-equipped to respond? Simple monocausal explanations such as ‘decadence’, etc. are insufficient. A major factor is inability to understand the power of wounded emotion. True from today’s Moscow to Berlin, Rome or Tokyo, emotions and internal psychological trauma engendered a political narrative based on slights, rage and exaltation of action on racial or nationalist sentiment.

To casual outside observers, the emotional and psychological component is incoherent, comical and inconsistent. Lack of connective awareness renders ‘objective’ negotiation with revanchism unsuccessful and often self-defeating. Objectivity and triumph of reason are themselves toxic concepts, laden with disconnected values such as process. Process and reason can never ameliorate (successfully) fundamentally ‘irrational’ emotion and belief. The revanchist’s pre-imagined end state of triumph and restored lost status rejects a prioi shared systemic values. Revanchism inherently demands a nihilistic acting out.

Status quo mindsets therefore routinely fail ultimately because they lack imagination. First, to see the emotional animus’ ferocity. Second, to anticipate nihilism’s goal to tearing down the established order for revenge.

‘We will win in the end over Ukraine because we’ve got the better argument that offers a better life for the future.’ Barack H. Obama

Consider Putin’s February 2014 attack on Ukraine. Obama and Kerry, exemplars of status quo ‘objective’ mind set, publically offered Russia ‘off ramps’ and other objective, de-escalation verbalisms. Merkel eventually said Russia would face more sanctions if Moscow interfered with Ukraine’s May 2014 elections. Russia did and to this date faces no new sanctions. Yet many in the West claim sanctions threats averted formal invasion. “Putin blinked!” declares Thomas Friedman, et al.

Putin did pull back some troops. Moscow’s military faced structural and organizational constraints of its own. For example, in April 2014 annual contracts on Russian conscripts expired. Rotating troops from the border would be essential anyway. New replacement equivalent conscripts still many months away. POL and logistics forward deployed also generated significant costs and bottlenecks.

Withrawal waited days until Moscow could simultaneously deploy the GRU-controlled (formally MVD) ‘Vostok Battalion’ of Russians, Chechens and Ossetians into Donetsk, Ukraine. They join thousands of new irregular volunteers flowing in from Russia who attack Ukrainian border guard posts in open, pitched gun fights. The status quo mind set calls this actual escalation ‘a blink’.

Confrontation Roller Coaster

Putin’s revanchism poses a long term challenge over years. We will see phases of confrontation and seeming de-escalation. The overarching emotional goals, however, will remain unchanged while the regime remains in power.

Italy’s war against Ethiopia (Abyssinia) followed this pattern. Formal war began in October 1935. Italy pre-occupied the victorious WWI Allies and the League of Nations with years of negotiations. By 1935, Britain belatedly realized Mussolini had no intention of functioning within agreements. Mussolini had escalated minor tensions with Ethiopia over the years into international crises, testing the Versailles Powers. He then lowered tensions, waited and then re-escalated.

When Mussolini started war he faced little danger. He broke Western morale. The Corporal saw this and went into the Rhineland less than 6 months later. Putin understands the status quo psychological temperature. His long calls to Obama and Merkel during the initial phase of Ukraine’s crisis had little to do with actual solutions. He sought an emotional read of his opponents.

Beyond Ukraine, Putin does face limits, mostly from China. His much scrutinized trip to Beijing for a gas deal underscores their differences and shared interests.

First, China carefully hasn’t put all its eggs in Putin’s revanchist cart. Beijing’s own narrative is about becoming the next status quo metropole. Irredentism – for now – is not part of Chinese foreign policy. Chinese official public support for Crimea is muted.

Second, China’s own revanchist narratives also compel its own acting out and escalation. Chinese provocations rile nearly all regional powers from Japan to ASEAN. And Russia herself lacks a real Asian strategy beyond using Asia to give Europe the bird.

Chinese factions have different approaches to Putin’s offered alliance. Beijing supports Putin but on their terms. The gas negotiations showed this difference explicitly. Beijing knows Moscow has no other place to go, allowing her to demand and get massive Russian concessions on price, Chinese investment penetration of Siberia, etc. Russia’s global humiliation will be remembered in Moscow. Meanwhile, China explores individual Putin initiatives like creating their own ratings agencies, joint naval exercises and other symbolic (for now) systemic attacks.

Russia’s Game Inside The West: Fear & Loathing In The Mirror

Russia created a significant apparatus to infiltrate domestic Western political and media audiences. One component is technical.(See, e.g. Russian troll farm exposed). Reportedly, Russia spent spent $100 million on the Internet component already. Another is political subversion. Moscow’s aim is to manipulate both Western ‘Left’ [sic] and Right internally to clash, undermining liberal democratic legitimacy. (See generally, Dugin’s various writings on the Russian “Fourth Way’ which rejects liberal democracy, Western socialism and Western fascism for an ersatz Russian fascism).

Political substance in Western countries, per Dugin quote at the beginning above, is unimportant. Fostering cynicism and division, replicating French societal paralysis in the 1930s, for example, is the game. Europe only now, slowly, wakes up to this danger. Moscow nurtures Pro-Putin fascist parties in Hungary, Bulgaria, UK, France, etc. Le Pen gleefully is out of 1930s Paris. Dugin, the Putin ideologue noted supra, recently received a fete in Vienna by Austrian Rightists, who hailed Putin as savior.

Russia’s American inroads use less direct means. Besides The Nation’s Katrina and Stephen Cohen show, Russia’s propaganda uses the Kremlin-sponsored Russia Today and systematic bot and infiltration campaigns to dominate Reddit, Twitter, blog and news sites. Russia cultivates relationships by providing broad platform and net traffic support for issue silos such as feminism, privacy, religion and the 99% critique.

It works. The ground is fertile. Probably the most troubling societal phenomena is Millennials’ pernicious and snarky relativism. And the effect often subliminal. For example, an’American feminism’ pundit such as Naomi Wolf pushes Kremlin-sponsored talking points on Ukraine to her broad audience. Such commingling of Russia Today video, blogs and tweets can be seen in conversations from American conservatives and progressives, self-declared anarchists and so-called socialists. All in service of critiques of liberal democracy to which they attach the prefix “neo” (neo-liberalism a hoary favorite).

Moscow’s Rightist outreach traffics in stoked racial animosities, manipulation of presumed ‘moral values’ resentments. A key exploit is fanning American chronic mood swings between over engagement abroad and isolationism. Conversations among the American Right about direct money from Moscow – so far – largely are kept offshore, discussing international initiatives to oppose womans’ rights, gay rights, etc. By contrast, Russian money is more evident in domestic European politics.

It’s the old Russian/Soviet game from the 1917-1940s with naive elements of the Western Left. Moscow’s new, prematurely revealed info-war apparat shows more overt success than earlier Soviet efforts.

So we have work cut out. Pauses and periodic de-escalations aside, Putin will keep pushing his overarching goal. It’s his emotional make-up and profoundly useful domestically. China’s current tacit, less fullsome support should not be assumed perpetually.

Let’s not be like generations before us. Let’s imagine what Putin wants to do. And stop him together.

Snowden’s Pyrrhic Victory? *

Snowden’s Pyrrhic Victory? *

Episode Recap

State of play so far since our last episode. Putin bemoans now being stuck with an unwelcome Christmas present (Snowden). Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia offer Snowden asylum but can’t get him there. The man of the hour meanwhile finally seeks asylum in Russia yet’s vague about ceasing public ‘anti-U.S. activities’, a pre-condition set by Putin.

Greenwald in turn threatens the U.S. with the worst disaster in history should anything ever happen to Snowden – while decrying that people pay too much attention to Snowden. And the U.S. hints about canceling a tete-a-tete with Putin after the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg.

So we ask you to join in our poll:


What’s So Funny About War, Budget Bloat And Nomenklatura Self-Interest?

DoD propaganda against the Budget Control Act’s sequester is remarkably shameless even for them. First, the ‘draconian’ cuts are anything but. They return DoD to Bush’s 2007 defense budget. DoD will get funded at the same level as at the height of a two-failed war bubble adjusted for inflation. Second, Obama (Romney?) ‘war’ outlays are specifically exempted. Sequester is not a ‘stab in the back’ to the ‘warfighter’(although it will be sold as such). Third, even if sequester is triggered this year, no budget cuts take effect until 2013 and can be postponed.

Sequester is an assault on DoD and its contractors’ privileged socio-economic position. Sure, debate will be framed in terms of ‘national security’. The truth? It’s about rice bowls, careers and status. And thus all the more fierce.

The DoD 2010 budget marked the apotheosis of American mindless spending on ‘national security’. So in that sense, returning to 2007 means a little over 10% cut. This reveals how Obama merely tinkered with Bush’s war economy.

Sequester Cuts Are Not Historically ‘Unprecedented’

What do 2007 budgets (adjusted for inflation) mean? Bush DoD budgets marked a 31% increase over Clinton outlays plus the additional, off-the-books outlays for the two-failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Panetta and company claim sequester will cut this or that favorite weapons program. Not actually true. Sequester specifically permits DoD to move moneys among accounts (which it already does anyway). Thus, DoD can make priority allocations within the double-war 2007 budget (adjusted for inflation) for programs, agencies, etc. DoD naturally doesn’t want to choose.

Should sequester happen, how ‘unprecedented’ are the cuts? Not very. After 1991, a bi-partisan consensus reduced DoD demands on the American economy by almost 35% from the Reagan years. Post-Vietnam saw not dissimilar ratios. Sequester would not match those levels.

The problem for DoD is that people represent its largest long term cost. And the Force is not going to change in size much. No cost savings there. Thus, the cuts have to come from elsewhere.

It’s All About The Broken Process Buying Broken Toys

What did grow under Bush/Obama is procurement, R&D and contractor outsourcing. (Along with global mission creep). Under Bush/Obama, procurement outlays are up almost 100% since 2000. Some went to immediate war theater needs. Much of it squandered by a broken (deliberately by industry collusion with Rummy) oversight and procurement process.

We wrote years ago here about the Pentagon’s scissors crisis for procurement (one example of many). Reagan-era platforms predictably were burned out through increased OPTEMPO. DoD failed to field generational replacements. You, Dear Reader, know about cost overruns re the F-22, the Army’s Future Combat System, or the absurd $1.5 trillion F-35. The broken procurement system is endemic.

Sequester might force two important policy objectives. One: DoD and its parasites must acknowledge they’re not immune to American economic circumstances. And two: DoD will have no choice but to get serious about acquisition reform and accept oversight with consequences. DoD and industry both want neither beyond superficial gestures.

DoD prefers that we all talk about specific weapons programs and missions. That debate is on their turf, their threats of district job loss, their slight of hand. Sadly, they’re likely to succeed.

12 years of Bush/Obama have so thoroughly militarized us and enshrined the false image of ‘warfighter’/national security apparatchik as untouchable, sanctified nobility. A rational conversation about American geostrategic commitments and interests, and allocation of resources accordingly is laughable.

Normally, a mature great power and healthy liberal democracy should avoid a sequester process. It’s a blunt instrument cost shifting congressional institutional failure into national security frameworks. From 1949-2000, civilians and the military in conversation resolved strategic footprints and their associated political economies with varying success. It’s our preferred process and the reason we initially opposed sequester.

You decide – America 2012 – how mature or healthy?

I Will Catch You When You Fall

God bless. In Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, too.

9//11, World Trade Center, Al Qaeda, Terrorism, War on Terror

This entire blog, from every comment from every reader, to every picture and typo – all of what we together have built is a living monument to 9/11 and its consequences. Proof that we do remember. Specifically, a recollection of 9/11 itself, with a link back to STSOZ 1.0 and Flight 93.

What do you think 9/11 means for us going forward?

NATO In Libya: Half-Assed Is As Half-Assed Does

How risible to see “the World’s Most Powerful Military Alliance” [sic] trumpet the accidental routing of a fourth rate tribal regime after months of literally pounding sand. Libya exposed NATO for what it is: a fig leaf on American Chinese-injected military steroids. Opening American bombardment aside, American logistics and C4ISR knitted together NATO’s random bombing of various tents, hovels and the odd tank or two while the Roadrunner Khaddaffi scampered away to release more Sheen-esque videos.

As we predicted, it took boots on the ground to change things. SAS from the UK et les autres rescued the disintegrating Western Libyan uprising, beginning with Misrata. Make no mistake. “NATO” airpower eventually proved capable (having exhausted its target set). But this overlong campaign is in Tripoli now because of [unacknowledged] boots on the ground. Moreover, this direct insertion of combat troops to effect ‘regime change’ was and remains contrary to the humanitarian UN authorizing resolution. Today’s “triumph” is premised on a fiction.

It’s also amusing to see the Usual Suspects rush to embrace Obama’s ‘vision’. Domestically, one can only call Obama’s Libya muddle symptomatic of the man. His unilateral assertion of war making power? Dick Cheney dared not go that far. Obama’s disdain for the War Powers Act? Trumped only by Harold Koh’s sophistry that as precedent will haunt us all in the future.

As for NATO, Obama’s Chauncey Gardner routine leaves it in limbo, too. America ratified the concept of conditional participation – something perversely Americans spent decades arguing Europeans should not do when reluctant to meet their alliance burdens. (Let’s not forget Turkey and Germany). Now that the U.S. has torn a hole in that tissue, it can only put NATO’s dubious value in stark relief. To the extent that “the World’s Most Powerful Military Alliance” exerted its will on some sand and tribes across the Med, today’s events give Brussels some ‘mo. It shouldn’t last. As we’ve long argued, the Germans are on top, the Russians definitely out, and thus no reason to keep insolvent Americans in.

Liberation of Tripoli, Special Forces, SAS, NATO, Khaddaffi, Misrata, Benghazi, Obama

As Tommy Franks taught the world in 2003, overthrowing a tin pot dictator often is the easy part. Some already — like the estimable Max Boot — call for a NATO stabilization force on the ground. Or that “the Libyan model” (WTF?) should be applied to Syria. Liberal interventionism dies harder than a Neocon PowerPoint slide in Herzliya. Obama lacks the capital, real and political, to do something really stupid. For once the Goldilocks Principle cuts in America’s favor.

Dan Goure Gets It Wrong: Align Geo-Strategic Commitments First, Then DoD Budget

Dan Goure, VP of the Lexington Institute think tank, advises the Pentagon to draw a hard line against further budget cuts.

Defense has already been tagged with over $800 billion in spending cuts since the Obama Administration took office. These include almost $400 billion in savings from program terminations and restructuring that were announced in 2009, another $78 billion in efficiency savings that the department was not allowed to retain and around $350 billion in cuts announced this past April (and confirmed in last week’s debt pact). It is unclear how much more the Pentagon will be asked to absorb in budget cuts in the second round of deficit reductions due out from a special Congressional Committee in the Fall . . .

There needs to be a defense-led argument for how to do deficit reduction without harming national security. How much can we afford to reduce defense without placing security fundamentally at risk? . . . The Pentagon needs to draw a line in the sand. If Congress or the American people wish to cross that line, so be it. But DoD needs to make the consequences of such a decision for national security very clear (emphasis added).

Utterly wrong. The national command level question must be to re-consider (a) what is an appropriate American geo-strategic footprint that (b) we can we afford and then (c) how to allocate budgets among State, DoD and others. What are core American interests? Secondary interests? Tertiary. And why are these interests militarized? Do we even remember anymore?

Goure argues that DoD is really an entitlement – something we should pay regardless of seeming need. An interesting reveal of internal psychology. Goure is a nice guy, a creative fixture of the national security scene. Several ‘D.C. friends’ and their spouses have worked with him or for him over the years. He’s a creative mind whose loyalties are to the defense establishment as opposed to any external ideology like Neocons.

He’s right that blind cuts in a trigger mechanism would be harmful. It’s not a rational resource allocation. Worse, blind cuts still leave U.S. over-extended commitments and guarantees across the globe. Without the means to honor them. Worse than paper tiger. Uncertainty among friends and foes as to U.S. intentions is a recipe for international systemic upheaval.

He’s also right that key capabilities might be lost. Some might be critical. Others only seemingly so because the hold they exert on memory and the past. We heard many of the same arguments when Bill Perry ‘consolidated’ the defense industry in the 1990s. Aligning a defense budget and capabilities to a realistic American geostrategic footprint will help identify which design teams, capabilities and infrastructure merit a roll of the dice.

Status Quo’s End

What Goure and others can’t conceive of is status quo’s end. Defense as entitlement? It’s *been* socialized entitlement since Reagan I. This ends/means gap has been Topic A within the national security community since 1984. What’s disconcerting about Goure’s piece? When the moment finally came, he blinked. One expects more. Although he like most are understandably caught off guard by Movement radicalism. Perhaps this is a visceral fire-fighter’s response to the immediate blaze. Still, if someone like Goure is staking out this turf, it’s a not a good sign about the overall conversation. Nothing to date indicates the feeble NSC/WH team has any strategic depth. State? Without a WH on its side, lucky to be in the conversation.

The Hill? Reid counting on ‘war savings’ from drawdowns from Afghanistan and Iraq? Mechanistic. The wars failed. Some kind of drawdown (no matter how slow rolled) pre-baked.

Larger strategic opportunities are before us. What of the international system? If the U.S. military is no longer a subsidized, underlying public good what is the alternative system architecture? What are the upsides and downsides? Regional blocs? Trans-geographic economic zones? Who are the players? Why would they want to join rather than hug the U.S. free ride to its last gasp? If ever there was a time for creative deep think, it is now.

Some Cold War relics are no brainers. NATO? Why? Russia’s GDP is $16,800 per capita. Italy’s alone – credit crisis included – is $28,000. Even Lithuania’s is higher. If NATO sans U.S. (Chinese funded) kinetic power can’t resolve Libya across the Med, it shows how much they’ve been a free ride, not a rationale for for further U.S. subsidy. If Poland has realized its future is with the German economic sphere rather U.S. military, why can’t Washington? U.S. can return to a ‘balancer’ role, offshore. These grand strategic questions are far larger and more important than industrial welfare issues like the F-35, etc.

And so on. And then take a hard look at the services, their priorities and then the reduced budget is aligned.

Finally, what about Leon Panetta? Leon proved at the Agency that he’s good at playing the game. At DoD he’s got 5 real constituencies. First is the president (although with Obama that’s not a hard rule). Second is ‘the building’ (Pentagon). Third are the services. Fourth is the Hill. And 5th is industry. He’s got to prove to ‘the building’ and services he’s got their back. Otherwise he and the political system overall could face overtly covert insurrection. We weren’t surprised by Panetta’s hard line stance.

His opening gambit has to be hardline. Unlike Obama, Panetta knows one doesn’t fold at the beginning. What footprint, number and what budget components he has in mind as ‘wins’, ‘compromise’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘lose’ none of us know.

There’s little reason so far to believe the U.S. has the will and perspective to undertake any of the above sequential aligning of commitments with means/ends. History shows blunt force trauma always works in the end (‘mushroom clouds’, ‘niger’, etc.). If so, it must be one of the faintest of silver linings.

It’s Time

What Walt says and we’ve said ad nauseum here before. In his heart Gates knows it’s over, too. May it be quick.

Rogue Client State Part 37

ISI helped coordinate the Mumbai terrorist attack? India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) has been saying that for years. Of course, RAW also claims ISI is responsible for Justin Bieber. Still, the whole broken clock thing. And it’s not like this court testimony is particularly firm or fact filled. Let’s run with it, shall we?

When In Doubt Consult With True Experts

Face it, talk to a London cabbie and they’ll give the same advice: logistics, logistics and logistics. As long as the Boy King wages a failed war in Afghanistan (now with extra-Petraeus, set to run an excessively militarized, less accountable CIA) we’ve got to try playing low key. 100,000 men without food, ammo and POL? Assume some flyboy will guarantee the Boy King air supply (how novel). 4 months and still it won’t be pretty, even without Italian armies running away.

If you hear anyone talking about ‘getting tough on Pakistan’ without providing a solution to this logistical choke hold that idiot – well, that’s probably a senior Administration official. But you see where we were going. Thus does Obama’s folly of a two-fold escalation come home to roost. Then COIN stupidity blocks other rational, strategic choices. We ‘need’ Pakistan because yadda, yadda, yadda — we’re geo-politically dim. U.S. engagement with the feeble Pakistani civilian government will somehow moderate and curtail the military’s primacy? Vapidity worthy of Cher Condi. Even in the medium term the smallest prospect borders on fanciful.

Throw COIN In The Trash Can

Toss COIN. The stupidest idea since Iraq. The U.S. has no vital strategic stake in who’s the Mayor of Kabul. As for the insanity of building a state out of disparate tribes and clans? We can’t even rebuild Michigan. Hello McFly? ‘Nuff said. Make extra sure Petraeus (and Stan) get three cups of tea when the news breaks.


Bin Laden Strike Bad For China? [Ed. - add extra ?] ?

In Thursday’s edition of China’s Communist Party-owned Global Times newspaper, the lead editorial was headlined, “After Bin Laden, will China become US’s foe?” Hoping that economic integration would defuse “right-wing paranoia” about China in the United States, the editorial nevertheless concluded: “The rise of China is certain to cause friction” in America. On Friday, the paper led with an editorial that referenced an interview I had given the Global Times in late April to admit that “China could be the loneliest rising power in world history.”

Of course, editorials in state-owned newspapers do not always mirror the Communist Party’s thinking or policies. But in this case, these two editorials remind us of two related points about Beijing’s worldview. First, China respects and even fears the United States more than the vast majority of Americans probably realize. And second, China’s sense of isolation is not an act but acute and real — and Osama bin Laden’s death will only accelerate America’s reengagement with its Asian allies and partners at China’s expense.

That’s certainly one way to spin it. How would you?

UBL Down – Attaboys Deserved All Around

Job well done. Given chance to surrender, UBL refused and double tapped.